- The US rapper returns with a confident and antagonistic debut album.
- Back in 2012, there was an exciting renaissance of cutting-edge "queer rap." Though the term is limiting, this was the year queer artists like Azealia Banks, Mykki Blanco, Le1f and Cakes Da Killa broke through in an otherwise heteronormative scene, stirring things up with cheeky lyrics and productions inspired by house, ballroom and R&B. Today, the idea of a queer rapper feels like less of a novel concept, but for a musical era that predated the legalization of gay marriage in the US, the moment was a pretty big deal.
One of the many gems to emerge during this period was Zebra Katz's debut single, "Ima Read," a minimalist but lethal track that quickly went viral after it soundtracked a Rick Owens fashion show in Paris. Described as an ode to the film Paris is Burning, the track touched on the nature of Black performance and the ballroom-derived concept of being "read." It also referenced personal frustrations with the artist's college experience, during which he was typically one of few black men in his classes. He was also repeatedly cast as darker skinned characters in his drama class, which led him to write a thesis on the moors in Shakespeare plays. In his debut album, LESS IS MOOR, he revisits similar themes of antagonism and performance, while confidently addressing his sexuality in the same gusty breath.
There are many astonishing moments in LESS IS MOOR, starting with the opening track. We're quickly thrust into an apocalyptic mood with Katz's familiar signature, "Zebra fucking Katz," only this time the voice swells into sinister, harmonized vocals over a dystopian drone. This fearsome energy persists in tracks like "ISH," where Katz boasts to an invisible opponent, "I'm the shit, you the piss." He wears his sexuality with pride in vampish tracks like "BLUSH." Above the metallic grate of "MOOR," a rugged cut replete with growls, pitched-up vocals and a manic laugh, he snaps, "They keep wonderin' who I'm dickin' / I just tell 'em mind your business." The shining banger of the album, "LICK IT N SPLIT IT," involves a frisky back-and-forth between SHYGIRL and Katz, underpinned by a sludgy drone, which shifts to and from the revved-up pop of Sega Bodega.
Jumping from tough gqom on "IN IN IN," to skittering jungle on "ZAD DRUMZ" to the earth-shattering industrial clamor of "NO 1 ELSE," there's little room for bland fillers here. Each song is a short blast, and as a result the album is dense. Take the sensual, '80s tinged, "MONITOR" or the haunting, swaggering bounce of "BEEN KNOWN." The sole moment of quiet and reflection can be found in "NECKLACE," an acoustic piece with Zebra Katz's coos front-and-center, grappling with the aftermath of a bygone relationship.
Nearly a decade since his last release, Zebra Katz reveals himself as not only a mature musician, but also an artist who's proud, maybe even arrogant, in his identity. In the album's closer, "EXIT 2 VOID," we get the last "Zebraa fuuuuckinng Kaatz," the gutsy signature that permeates the 15-track record. This time, it's garbled and entangled in gravelly feedback, a fitting sign-off for an artist boldly reminding us who he is. It might be the comeback we didn't know we needed, and it's the perfect soundtrack for trying times.
01. Intro To Less
05. In In In
06. Zad Drumz
07. Monitor feat. S Ruston
11. No 1 Else
13. Been Known
14. Lick It N Split feat. Shygirl
15. Exit 2 Void